A Tres Leches Cake Even Beginners Can Make

I have been MIA for a few weeks but for good reason. I was celebrating a birthday: I know, I know, a birthday shouldn’t last for weeks. But this was a milestone birthday, my celebration of reaching a quarter of a century, the big 25. So I pampered myself and stole away with the family for a bit to relax on a beach in the middle of February (gotta love living in Florida), drinking umbrella drinks while watching the sun set every night. It was pure magic. One of the things I love about birthdays is that they are the perfect excuse to eat and drink whatever you want. Calories don’t count on your birthday (or when you’re on vacation for that matter). And usually, birthdays=birthday cake. Well, being an avid baker, I had to experiment with something different than the traditional layered white or chocolate bland store bought cake covered with a way-too-sweet buttery manufactured frosting. So, I tried my hand at making a tres leches cake. Random, I know. But why not switch things up and make it interesting.

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This was my first time making a tres leches; I researched numerous recipes to find just the right one. Some recipes called for a separated egg method, making more of an angel food cake base (whipping egg whites separately and then adding yolks) and other recipes called for a whole egg method, more of a pound cake base (using the whole egg all at once, yolks and whites). I did my research on both methods and, combining that with my extensive knowledge from pastry school, decided to use the separated egg method.

My reasoning: Since I was to be soaking my cake overnight, and wanted the cake to absorb all the flavors but still keep its moist, light texture, I wanted to use angel-food as the base of the cake. This more delicate cake structure and flavor would soak up the moisture nicely since it is such an airy cake (and rises a lot). If I were to make more of a pound cake base, the end product would be an even fuller, heavier product that would weigh down both the pan and the person after eating it. I didn’t want that result.

To start with, I preheated my oven to 350F. I read through my entire recipe before even heading to the grocery store and found that this recipe rises A LOT so I bought a disposable lasagna pan instead of a regular cake to give me more depth and room for my cake to rise. (Check out my pictures and you will see that I am not exaggerating).

After spraying my pan, I quickly mixed my four and baking soda, set it aside, and went to work on whipping my egg whites. Since you want a nice fluffy meringue for your cake mix, you do not want to bring your eggs to room temperature. Both your eggs and your bowl should be cold.

Pro tip: stick your bowl in the freezer for five minutes to achieve this.

Whip your egg whites with the whisk attachment until white and frothy. Once they appear to be frothing up, slowly egg the sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

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Pro tip #2: Don’t be alarmed if you see some of your sugar lining the sides of the bowl. This is natural since you are whipping at such a high speed. Do NOT stop your mixer and scrap the sides of the bowl! This will damage the volume and silky sheen of your meringue.

Next, I slowly beat in the yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Finally, to finish up my batter, I added the flour in three additions, alternating with the whole milk in two additions. Start and end with your flour.

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After I poured the batter in the pan, I set the oven to 30 minutes and started working on my custard milk mixture. I mixed the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and one cup of heavy cream. You can also add three tablespoons orange liquor (Grand Marnier is recommended) but I opted to keep this out this time.

Once the cake came out of the oven, I cooled it for about ten minutes, then pierced the cake all over and poured the milk mixture everywhere to completely saturate it. You want to do this while your cake is still warm so it can properly soak everything up.

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Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or overnight for better absorption and flavor.

Right before I went to eat it, I made the topping. I combined the remaining one cup of heavy cream and powdered sugar in a medium bowl, beat the cream until soft peaks formed, then spread the whipped cream over the entire cake, finishing off with a little sprinkle of cinnamon sugar (or a large sprinkle in some places where my hand got carried away).

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And there you have it. Homemade tres leches cake. The end product fell apart when I cut into it. It was super moist and gooey and fluffy all at the same time. The three milks made the cake extremely rich but not sickeningly sweet. It was absolutely perfect. Don’t believe me? I guess you’ll have to make it and see for yourself.

 

TRES LECHES CAKE

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

4 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup whole milk

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Method:

  1. Preheat over to 350F. Spray a 10-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides.
  2. Mix the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until frothy.
  4. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and beat to stiff peaks.
  5. Reduce speed and beat in the yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
  6. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the whole milk in 2 additions.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  9. Pierce the top of the cake all over (the more holes the better).
  10. Mix the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and 1 cup heavy cream (and orange liqueur if using) until combined.
  11. Pour all over the cake while warm.
  12. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight for best results.
  13. When ready to serve: combine the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the cream until soft peaks form.
  14. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon.

 

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